The Warwick Vets baseball team isn’t looking for moral victories when it steps on the field anymore, not after a season in which it made the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
However, after falling 3-2 to South Kingstown in its first postseason game in three years, the ’Canes were still proud of their performance, regardless of the outcome. They certainly would have preferred a win, but they also showed that they could hang in with one the state’s best teams in a pressure-filled environment.
As an 8-10 team in the regular season, No. 13 Vets was the clear underdog against the 14-4, fourth-seeded Rebels. Yet, in front of a big crowd, the ’Canes nearly tied the game with a comeback in the seventh, and there was never a time when they looked overmatched or lacked the confidence to keep it close.
“We battled,” Vets head coach Nolan Landy said. “That’s what we did all year. We battled. I’m proud of the effort today. We didn’t come out on top, but I’m proud of the effort.”
Still, the loss hurt. Vets was one big hit away from a potential upset. Down 3-1 in the final inning with runners at second and third and nobody out, senior Bryan O’Mara hit a hard shot just to the left of second base that seemed destined to wind up in center field and tie the game.
But South Kingstown All-State shortstop T.J. Lynch made a diving play going to his left, got to his feet and threw out O’Mara at first. One run came in, but T.J. Boyajian was left at third.
Rebels’ pitcher Sean Healy then retired the next two batters on a groundout and a strikeout, stranding the tying run at third and ending the game.
“I’ll be seeing that one in my nightmares,” Landy said. “The kid made a great play and held us on third base.”
Vets will now have to scramble to advance in the postseason. It plays today at 4 p.m. at Pilgrim in an elimination game. Pilgrim lost its opener 3-0 to La Salle.
The winner of that game will advance to take on the loser of today’s game between La Salle and South Kingstown.
And what it essentially comes down to is that now the ’Canes will have to win four consecutive games to advance out of Region 2.
“The moral stuff was at the beginning of the year,” Landy said. “Now? We’re competitive, and we’re in it to win it. I think we can hang with anybody and that’s what I tell these guys. They believe it.”
Vets got a strong performance from senior Shane Johnson on the mound, as he went the distance and allowed just the three runs on five hits while striking out three and walking two. He also hit two batters.
He kept the ’Canes in the game while they struggled to find their way at the plate.
“That’s a good team,” South Kingstown head coach James Sauro said. “That’s a real good pitcher.”
Vets fell into a 2-0 hole early, as the Rebels scored twice in the first inning on a two-out double by Nick Hayes to right field. The ball looked like it might be caught, but Andrew Morrissette slipped while turning for it, and it fell to the grass for a hit.
South Kingstown then made it 3-0 in the third inning when Hayes knocked in Lynch, who had singled to open the inning, with a one-out double to right field.
From there, though, Johnson was nearly perfect. He retired the next seven batters and didn’t allow a hit the rest of the way. He hit a man in the fifth and put two men on with a walk and a hit batsman in the sixth, but he worked his way out of both jams to keep the game tight.
“Shane pitched great,” Landy said.
The problem, at least in the early going, was the ’Canes’ offense. Johnson walked against South Kingstown starter Connor Barrett to open the second, but he never got any further, as Barrett struck out two men and induced a pop out.
In the third, Morrissette reached first on an error, but Barrett – a lefty – picked him off first shortly afterwards.
Then, in the fourth, Vets got a double from Danny Greaves and Johnson reached on an error with one out. With two runners on, Barrett bore down and struck out Kevin Hickey for the second out, but he followed that with a walk to Steven Denis to load the bases.
But Barrett didn’t give in, striking out Tony Lonczak on four pitches to strand the three runners and keep South Kingstown in front 3-0.
“The bats just weren’t happening,” Landy said. “We were taking called third strikes there at the beginning.”
The ’Canes again threatened in the fifth and finally got on the board. Barrett gave up a single to Pat DelSanto start the inning, and Morrissette laid down a sacrifice bunt to move DelSanto to second. After T.J. Boyajian popped out, O’Mara came through with a single to left, plating DelSanto for Vets’ first run, making the score 3-1.
In the sixth, Vets again made a push. Johnson walked to lead off the inning, and Barrett was pulled for reliever Josh Tombs. Kevin Hickey greeted Tombs with a sacrifice bunt, and Denis reached on an error, but Toms struck out Lonczak and then got a groundout from DelSanto to get out of the jam.
Then came the seventh, where the ’Canes nearly evened the score. Morrissette led off the inning with a walk, and a hard shot from Boyajian off South Kingstown third baseman Shane Newton put runners at first and second and drove Tombs from the game.
In came Healy, and after Boyajian stole second to put runners at second and third, O’Mara smacked the ball up the middle.
But Lynch made the play of the game, keeping Vets down a run.
“That’s our All-State guy right there,” Sauro said. “He made a great play.”
Still, with just one out and Boyajian on third, the ’Canes had a chance, but Greaves grounded out hard to a drawn-in Ryan Sweenor at second base, and Johnson struck out to finish things off.
Now it’s on to Pilgrim, a team that beat Vets twice during the regular season. The ’Canes lost 5-0 the first time they met on April 12, and then 5-4 on May 14.